Six new students are enrolled in the RN to BSN Rural Education and Support scholarship program at Western Carolina University this fall as the university and Mission Health in Asheville continue their partnership to improve the quality of nursing care in rural Western North Carolina by increasing the number of baccalaureate-degree prepared nurses.
The “RN to BSN” in the program’s name refers to the progression of students from “registered nurse to bachelor of science in nursing.” WCU has been receiving a federal workforce diversity grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration of just over $1 million, spread over three years, to cover tuition expenses and provide monthly stipends and mentoring to the enrolled students.
“The RN BRES program has been very successful,” said Karen Cochran, director of the program for WCU out of its instructional site in Asheville. “A total of 26 nursing students from 12 different health care organizations across Western North Carolina have been accepted into the program since fall of 2014. The first two students graduated last May, and 13 more are expected to graduate in the 2016-17 academic year.”
Students in the program are spread across the region and work in diverse settings such as public health, acute care, extended living, home health and cancer care, Cochran said. “WCU and Mission are proud to partner with the HRSA to send bachelor-prepared nurses into rural Western North Carolina to benefit the health of citizens,” she said.
The three-year grant ends next June. Plans are in the works to apply for new funding to keep the program going, Cochran said.
The program is supporting development of nurses qualified as “advanced rural generalists” who are competent in meeting a variety of health care needs across diverse specialties and in different health care settings.
Larry D. Putnam of Sylva was enrolled in the RN BRES program before graduating summa cum laude (with highest honors) from WCU last spring with his bachelor’s degree in nursing. Putnam said he has been a nurse for 18 years and he feels “very fortunate” to have been selected for the program.
After working in the emergency department at an area hospital, Putnam started in a new position as a nurse educator in September at Haywood Regional Medical Center in Waynesville.
“The RN-BRES program and having a bachelor of science in nursing have made me a better nurse,” Putnam said. “Having a higher degree gives me a level of confidence that I didn’t have before. I cannot say enough good things about the mentoring program in RN-BRES and the guidance I received during my time at WCU.”
Putnam said the program’s influence also led to him to study for and obtain his national certification in emergency nursing, and he now has plans to continue his education and earn his master’s degree in nursing in the next five years.
By Randall Holcombe